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The Ballad of Mùlán

Procursus

This text of the Ballad of Mùlán is about as close as we come to a definitive edition of the famous story of the woman warrior Mùlán (木兰 “Magnolia”) who saves China. Her historical reality is unknown, and some evidence suggests that if she existed at all she may not have been Chinese, but rather the heroine of a story borrowed from tribal groups to the north. Mùlán's story, wherever it came from, appears to have been told in a popular song sometime in the Northern Wèi 北魏 dynasty (386-534, period 10i), and to have circulated in writing by the Sòng dynasty (960-1279, period 15).


The ballad is surprisingly short, and in comparison with the versions found in story collections, films, operas, children's books, and other media (not to say the charming elaboration in the famous Disney movie), it places a great deal of emphasis on Mùlán's feelings of longing for her home, spends virtually no time describing her military exploits, and includes no reference to any possible romantic attachments over her ten years of service.


The final reference to the interchangeability of men and women in time of emergency, with its provocative implication that both sexes are equally competent, is shared among all versions of the story, however, and is expressed here through a charming metaphor that has become almost proverbial.


As presented on this page, the simplified Chinese text is red and the traditional characters are blue.

DKJ



The Ballad of Mùlán 木兰辞
木蘭辭
Mùlán Cí
1.

Click click click:

Mùlán sat at home weaving,

but the loom’s resonant sound could not be heard

over the girl’s sighs.

1.
唧唧复唧唧,
木兰当户织。
不闻机抒声,
唯闻女叹息。


1.
唧唧複唧唧,
木蘭當戶織。
不聞機抒聲,
唯聞女歎息。
1.

Jījī fù jījī;

Mùlán dànghù zhī.

Bù wén jī shū shēng;

wéi wén nǚ tànxī.

2.

Asked what thoughts and memories

led to this, she said,

“A girl should have no thoughts

or memories.

2.
问女何所思,
问女何所忆?
「女亦无所思,
女亦无所忆。


2.
問女何所思,
問女何所憶?
「女亦無所思,
女亦無所憶。
2.

Wèn nǚ hé suǒ sī;

wèn nǚ hé suǒ yì?

“Nǚ yì wú suǒ sī;

nǚ yì wú suǒ yì.

3.

But last night I saw the call to arms;

the khan is calling up soldiers.

There were twelve scrolls of names,

and each included Father’s name.

3.
昨夜见军帖,
可汗大点兵,
军书十二卷,
卷卷有爷名。


3.
昨夜見軍帖,
可汗大點兵,
軍書十二卷,
卷卷有爺名。
3.

Zuóyè jiàn jūntiě;

Kèhàn dà diǎn bīng;

jūnshū shí'èr juàn;

quánquán yǒu yé míng.

4.

But Father has no son,

and I have no big brother.

I want to go to buy a saddle and horse

and serve in Father’s place.”

4.
阿爷无大儿,
木兰无长兄,
愿为市鞍马,
从此替爷征。」


4.
阿爺無大兒,
木蘭無長兄,
願爲市鞍馬,
從此替爺征。」
4.

Āyé wú dà ér;

Mùlán wú zhǎngxiōng;

yuàn wéi shì ān mǎ;

cóng cǐ tì yé zhēng.”

5.

In the east market she bought a steed,

and in the west market a saddle;

in the south market she bought a bridle,

and in the north market she bought a whip.

5.
東市買駿馬,
西市買鞍韉,
南市買轡頭,
北市買長鞭。


5.
东市买骏马,
西市买鞍鞯,
南市买辔头,
北市买长鞭。
5.

Dōng shì mǎi jùnmǎ;

xī shì mǎi ānjiān;

nán shì mǎi pèitóu;

běishì mǎi cháng biān.

6.

In the morning she took leave of her parents

and went to camp beside the Yellow River.

She no longer heard parent’s calling to her;

by evening she heard only splashing of the river.

6.
朝辞爷娘去,
暮宿黄河边。
不闻爷娘唤女声,
但闻黄河流水鸣溅溅。


6.
朝辭爺娘去,
暮宿黃河邊。
不聞爺娘喚女聲,
但聞黃河流水鳴濺濺。
6.

Zhāo cí yéniáng qù;

mù sù Huánghé biān.

bùwén yéniáng huàn nǚshēng;

dàn wén Huánghé liúshuǐ míng jiānjiān.

7.

The following morning she left the Yellow River

and by sunset had reached Black Mountain.

She no longer heard her parents calling to her;

by evening she heard only the neighing of the horses of the barbarians at Mount Yān.

7.
旦辞黄河去,
暮至黑山头。
不闻爷娘唤女声,
但闻燕山胡骑鸣啾啾。


7.
旦辭黃河去,
暮至黑山頭。
不聞爺娘喚女聲,
但聞燕山胡騎鳴啾啾。
7.

Dàn cí Huánghé qù;

mù zhì Hēishān tóu.

bùwén yéniáng huàn nǚshēng;

dàn wén Yānshān hú qí míng jiūjiū.

8.

She traveled ten thousand miles to do battle,

and traversed mountain passes as though flying;

the night air moved the watchman’s rattle;

the cold light glinted on her armor.

8.
万里赴戎机,
关山度若飞,
朔气传金柝,
寒光照铁衣。


8.
萬里赴戎機,
關山度若飛,
朔氣傳金柝,
寒光照鐵衣。
8.

Wàn lǐ fù róngjī;

guānshān dù ruò fēi;

shuò qì chuán jīntuò;

hán guāng zhào tiěyī.

9.

A hundred generals died in battle;

in ten years she returned as a great warrior.

On returning she met the emperor

seated in his bright palace.

9.
将军百战死,
壮士十年归。
归来见天子,
天子坐明堂。


9.
將軍百戰死,
壯士十年歸。
歸來見天子,
天子坐明堂。
9.

jiāngjūn bǎi zhànsǐ;

zhuàngshì shí nián guī.

guīlái jiàntiān zi;

tiānzǐ zuò míngtáng.

10.

He praised her expansively

and gave her extravagant gifts.

The Khan asked what she wanted.

She replied, “I have no use for honors or servants;

I would only borrow a swift camel

to take me back home.”

10.
策勋十二转,
赏赐百千强。
可汗问所欲,
「木兰不用尚书郎,
愿借明驼千里足,
送儿还故乡。」


10.
策勳十二轉,
賞賜百千強。
可汗問所欲,
「木蘭不用尚書郎,
願借明駝千里足,
送兒還故鄉。」
10.

Cèxūn shí'èr zhuǎn;

shǎngcì bǎi qiān jiàng.

Kèhàn wèn suǒ yù,

“Mùlán bù yòng Shàngshū láng;

yuàn jiè míngtuó qiān lǐ zú;

sòng ér huán gùxiāng.”

11.

When her parents heard that their daughter had returned,

they went out to the village gate to welcome her back.

When her younger sister heard that she had returned,

she stayed inside to put dress herself up.

11.
爷娘闻女来,
出郭相扶将。
阿姊闻妹来,
当户理红妆。


11.
爺娘聞女來,
出郭相扶將。
阿姊聞妹來,
當戶理紅妝。
11.

Yéniáng wén nǚ lái;

chū guō xiāngfú jiāng.

Āzǐ wén mèi lái;

dànghù lǐ hóngzhuāng.

12.

When her little brother heard that his sister had returned,

he sharpened a cleaver to slaughter a pig and a goat for a feast.

She opened the door on the east side of her room,

and sat on her bed on the west side.

12.
小弟闻姊来,
磨刀霍霍向猪羊。
开我东阁门,
坐我西阁床。


12.
小弟聞姊來,
磨刀霍霍向豬羊。
開我東閣門,
坐我西閣床。
12.

Xiǎodì wén zǐ lái;

mó dāo huòhuò xiàng zhū yáng.

Kāi wǒ dōng gé mén;

zuò wǒ xī gé chuáng.

13.

She removed her war clothing and

donned the dress she had worn of old.

Looking out her window she tied up her hair, and

looking in her mirror she placed a yellow flower in her hair.

13.
脱我战时袍,
著我旧时裳。
当窗理云鬓,
对镜贴花黄。


13.
脫我戰時袍,
著我舊時裳。
當窗理雲鬢,
對鏡貼花黃。
13.

Tuō wǒ zhànshí páo;

zhù wǒ jiùshí cháng.

Dāng chuāng lǐ yúnbìn;

duì jìng tiē huā huáng.

14.

She went out to see her companions;

the companions were astonished.

Comrades for twelve years, they

did not know Mùlán was a woman.

14.
出门看伙伴,
伙伴皆惊惶。
同行十二年,
不知木兰是女郎。


14.
出門看夥伴,
夥伴皆驚惶。
同行十二年,
不知木蘭是女郎。
14.

Chū mén kàn huǒbàn;

huǒbàn jiē jīnghuáng.

Tóngháng shí'èr nián;

bù zhī Mùlán shì nǚláng.

15.

Mùlán said, “The male rabbit normally hops and runs,

while the female sits and stares.

But both flee fast when danger threatens.

How can one tell whether they are male or female then?”

15.
「雄兔脚扑朔,
雌兔眼迷离。
双兔傍地走,
安能辨我是雄雌? 」


15.
「雄兔腳撲朔,
雌兔眼迷離。
雙兔傍地走,
安能辨我是雄雌? 」
15.

“Xióng tù jiǎo pū shuò;

cí tù yǎn mílí.

Shuāng tù bàng dì zǒu;

ān néng biàn wǒ shì xióng cí? ”



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